Tag Archives: Fennel Seed

Farfalle in Oxtail Reduction, with Truffle

(serves 6 – appetizer size)
Ever come across that rare pasta dish that doesn’t use tomatoes, cheese, cream, olive oil or bits of meat? This is it. Its sauce is a high-gelatine reduction of oxtail consommé. Despite its simple appearance, I consider this to be one of my consummate pasta recipes. It has the full flavour of meat, but no meat itself and to round it off, the pasta is lightly topped with a few slices of truffle to give it the perfect aroma. It might take some time to prepare this dish, but its not technically difficult and it will be well worth the effort.


  1. Oxtail (800g)
  2. Dried Red Dates (20)
  3. Truffles Slices in Oil (60g bottle)
  4. Farfalle (300g)
  5. Fennel Seeds (1T)
  6. Thyme  
  7. Oxo Beef Cubes (2)
  8. Brandy


  1. Make deep slits across the white connective tissue to expose the meat beneath. Place the oxtail in a pot and top off with boiling water till the meat is just covered. Use a pot where all your oxtail can fit in without stacking, but keep it as small as possible to minimize the amount of water.
  2. Apply low heat and keep at a slow simmer for 1 hour followed by 2 hours of gradual cooling while covered. Top off with water occasionally to keep the oxtail covered. Repeat the simmer/cooling a seond time. 
  3. Add the red dates and do the simmer/cooling a third time, but this time don’t top up with water. If you add all that up, the minimum cooking time is 9 hours. It would be best if you let the oxtail cool overnight while you sleep in one of the cycles.

    nothing but oxtail, red dates, water and lots of simmering

  4. When the meat is finally shrinking away from the bone (see photo), remove all the solids from the pot. In a bowl dissolve 2 Oxo beef cubes and 1t sugar in half a cup of hot water. Add this beef stock plus 1T fennel seeds, 1T chopped thyme, 2T Brandy to the pot.
  5. Reduce under low heat till the mixture begins to thicken. Cover and allow to cool. This concludes the pre-preparation phase.
  6. When its close to dinner time, boil a new pot of water with a knob of butter and pinch of salt. Half cook your pasta in this and then strain it.
  7. Put your concentrated oxtail bullion through a fine tea strainer to remove all solids and pour the resulting sauce into a non-stick pan and reheat till boiling. Add the half cooked pasta to the pan and stir fry it in the sauce till it is al dente. You’ll probably need to add water to keep the pan from drying up, but add only a bit at a time. At the very end, taste and decide if you need to add salt.
  8. Arrange the pasta on dishes and top off with a few pieces of truffle and a very light drizzle of the oil the truffle is soaked in. A small 60g bottle should be enough but you can use more if you like. If you have fresh truffles to shave on, all the better.


  • The cooked meat can be stripped from the bone and shredded for a second dish like braised oxtail, oxtail shepherds pie or jellied oxtail; no point letting all that work to soften it go to waste. Remember to drench the shredded meat in some of the bullion to keep it from hardening.
  • Why use oxtail when plain beef is so much easier to work with? It is the gelatine extracted from the connective tissue that makes this recipe work, so you need to use either the tail, cheeks or a certain part of the ribs. For a pork version, the trotters will work as well as the tail.
  • I picked bow-tie pasta because its shape is perfect for capturing the sauce. When you look at the picture, you can see the pasta is brown because it is completely coated. If you want to try something else, stick to small pasta that is in plain wheat colour.
  • Dried red dates are a common Korean/Chinese ingredient for soup and they go really well with beef. Another good thing about them is they float, so they won’t get stuck under the oxtail and become burnt during the long simmer (and thats why we didn’t throw in the herbs until the final reduction phase). If you can’t find dried red dates, go with fresh wedges of apple.
  • If you find truffles too costly, you can just use truffle oil without the truffles. Or try other garnishes. Pick those with a strong aroma and weak flavour, for example: Deep fried shallots, pan fried fennel or perhaps coriander/cilantro leaves.

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The Spice Page

The strange thing about spices is they all taste terrible by themselves but when mixed in minute quantities with food, out of nowhere they produce new depth, and make dishes more wholesome. I’ve only put in spices that I use regularly and this by no mean a comprehensive list. Hopefully, there’ll be new additions from time to time. This page is only a starting point, so don’t be afriad to experiment with different spices and foods, you’ll discover your own ‘killer combos’.

Spice 500

  1. Cardamon (also cardamom) is a spice from the Indian subcontinent, belonging to the ginger family. Cardamon has a unique bitter smoky flavour and being from India, they are naturally used in a lot of curried dishes, like biryani. In western cuisine, they are typically used to enhance the flavour of meat fillings, especially in savoury pies and pastries. They come either in whole seeds or ground seeds. I recommend using ground cardamom, because no one enjoys biting into a cardamom seed. Did I mention they are bitter? Use only a pinch at a time.
  2. Cinnamon is a tree bark that is dried and sold as sticks or as a powder. As a stick, it is used as a fancy way of flavouring Italian style cappuccino but more often than not, it is used in powder form. The ‘warmness’ of cinnamon makes it partner well with many hot desserts and pastries, especially those which contain cooked fruits like apple pie. Cinnamon is also used in baked savoury dishes, but less frequently.
  3. Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree found in the former Dutch Indies. Its strong peppery bittersweet flavour makes it perfect for gamey red meat roasts (lamb, venison etc.). Its pointed shape and hardness allows it to be planted directly into the meat before baking. When used for soups, it is often planted into an onion for easy retrieval after it has surrendered its flavour. Cloves are a versatile spice, and they are also used in many hot alcoholic drinks like hot toddy and mulled wine.
  4. Coriander Seed powder, unlike cilantro, only has a mild citrus smell and also a relatively mild taste. This mildness makes it a good all-purpose spice and coriander is used with everything from coffee, to meat seasoning, to soups. It is also used as a base to be mixed with other stronger spices, such as in the case of curry powder. When you wish to add body to your soup or stew without substantially adjusting the taste, you can’t go wrong with coriander seed.
  5. Cumin seeds are usually ground up and used as the active ingredient in curry powder. It is used for specific dishes in a large number of different cultures but it is not used much in traditional western cuisine except for making creamy vegetable soups, especially cream of carrot soup. If your recipe calls for curry powder, you can more often than not simply substitute in cumin.
  6. Fennel Seed has been described as a mild anise, which themselves are described to have the taste of licorice. It is traditionally considered one of the best spices for fish dishes in old world cuisine. Nowadays many modern bouillabaisse recipes have substituted fennel seeds for fennel bulbs. Fennel seeds are also used in Italian sausages and Chinese five spices powder.
  7. Nutmeg is a brown powder ground from the seed of a tree by the same name. It has the appearance of an unrefined brown sugar like muscovado. You’d usually use it if you want to give a spicy kick to a egg dessert,  like custard or sabayon. It is also be used to marinate gamey meat and as an ingredient in hot alcoholic drinks like mulled wine. Mace is made from the outer cover of the nutmeg seed  and can be thought of as a milder form of nutmeg.
  8. Paprika is the bright red powder ground from dried sweet and hot peppers. It is however not as spicy as it looks. It is used most in Eastern European cuisine, in dishes such as Hungarian goulash. Paprika is also used to make chorizo, a type of sausage from the Iberian peninsula. That’s why they are so red. I don’t know why, but I usually use paprika when I am marinating lamb or chicken.
  9. Pepper – what’s there to say? Use it (black) all the time. Also try the japanese pepper powder, called Sansyo.
  10. Saffron is reputedly the most expensive spice in the world. Luckily you only use a little at a time or you end up with a cough mixture taste. Saffron can be bought in powdered form or in threads, which should be then crushed into powder. Saffron is a standard ingredient in French bouillabaisse and Spanish paella and certain yellow risottos.
  11. Shichimi Togarashi, translated as seven spices powder, is a japanese mix of pepper and chilli, with other ingredients such as tangerine zest and sesame seeds. Whenver a recipe calls for pepper or paprika, you can try using this instead to get that extra kick.
  12. Turmeric is a bright yellow spice of the ginger family that actually tastes like, well dried ground up ginger. It is used in many far-eastern dishes where the rice is dyed yellow. Turmeric also gives chutneys their distinctive yellow tinge. There is a misconception that turmeric can be substituted for saffron, but all they share is the ability to make things yellow.
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Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Ingredients


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